Travel cards December 2018: 5x rewards, lounges & Global Entry | finder.com

Compare travel rewards credit cards

We value our editorial independence, basing our comparison results, content and reviews on objective analysis without bias. But we may receive compensation when you click links on our site. Learn more about how we make money from our partners.

Travel credit cards let you earn miles you can redeem for free flights and other travel perks.

This guide explains how travel rewards credit cards work, how to compare travel credit cards, and how to maximize your rewards. If you’re undecided, this guide will also help you figure out whether a travel rewards credit card is right for you.

Our Pick: The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5x Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5x Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Read less
Read more
Promoted

Compare cards with travel rewards

Updated December 15th, 2018
Name Product Welcome Offer Reward Value per Dollar APR (Annual Percentage Rate) for Purchases Annual Fee
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
1x points
17.99% to 24.99% variable
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening - that's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
1x points
17.99% to 24.99% variable
$450
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first 3 months.
1x miles
17.74% to 26.74% variable
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
30,000 bonus miles after you use your new card to make $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. Rates & Fees
75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Card after you use your new card to make $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership.
3x points
17.74% to 26.74% variable
$0
Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership. Rates & Fees
50,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first 3 months
1x points
See Rates & Fees
$250
50,000 bonus Membership Rewards® Points when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months Rates & Fees
Enjoy 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
2x miles
17.99%, 21.99% or 24.99% variable
$0 annual fee for the first year ($89 thereafter)
Enjoy 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
1x points
None (Charge Card)
$550
Get 5x Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5x points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com. Rates & Fees
125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card after you use your new card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership.
3x points
17.74% to 26.74% variable
$95
Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 or more in purchases with your new card within the first 3 months of card membership. Rates & Fees
10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months.
1x miles
17.74% to 26.74% variable
$0
Earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months of card membership. Rates & Fees
75,000 Bonus Points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
2x points
17.74% to 26.74% variable
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Enjoy a $0 annual fee on the first year and earn up to 2 Starpoints® for every dollar of eligible purchases. Rates & Fees

Compare up to 4 providers

How do travel rewards credit cards work?

Travel rewards credit cards are a type of rewards credit card that pays miles on your purchases. For example, your credit card might pay 1 mile per dollar in purchases. Once you accumulate enough miles, you can use your rewards to purchase a flight. The number of rewards required for a flight varies by airline, flight, dates, and the seat you choose.

Your credit card might pay a higher number of rewards for certain purchases – such as airline-specific purchases or travel purchases – and a lower number of miles on all other purchases. You can maximize the rewards you get by using your credit card for the purchases that earn the most miles.

Airline vs. non-airline travel credit cards

  • Airline credit cards. Some travel rewards credit cards are affiliated with a specific airline – you earn the most rewards when you buy tickets for that airline. Non-airline purchases will earn you a lower level of rewards (and might not earn rewards at all). To maximize those points, you’ll need to be a member of the airline’s frequent flyer scheme (which is usually free to join). As a member of the frequent flyer program, you’ll earn additional miles on flights with the airline even if you don’t pay with your credit card. Affiliated airline credit cards can also come with additional perks like free checked baggage and access to airport lounges.
  • Non-airline travel rewards credit cards pay a higher amount of rewards on all travel purchases, while other purchases earn a lower amount of rewards. For example, a card may pay 3X points on travel purchases, including airline tickets, and just one point per dollar on everything else. With non-airline travel credit cards, you may be able to use your rewards with a variety of airline partners instead of just a single airline. You may also be able to transfer your rewards to another frequent flyer program, sometimes with no conversion fee.

Cash back vs. points vs. miles: What type of rewards card is best for me?

How to compare travel rewards credit cards

There are dozens of travel rewards credit cards to choose from. Choosing the right airline credit card is key to earning enough rewards to use for a free flight. Here are some factors to consider as you compare airline credit cards.

  • Airline. Choose a credit card affiliated with the airline you use for the majority of your flights. If you tend to fly on different airlines, a non-airline credit card is a better choice. That way, you can earn miles/points regardless of the airline that you use.
  • Signup bonus. Many travel rewards credit cards offer a signup bonus to new cardholders who spend a certain amount of money on purchases within the first few months of having your credit card. Some airline credit cards have signup bonuses with enough rewards to pay for a free flight or automatically put you in the airline’s elite status tier for that calendar year.

Sign up carefully

As well as the signup bonus itself, consider whether you can actually meet the spending requirements needed to earn the bonus. Don’t get in over your head; choose a credit card only if you currently spend enough money each month to meet the spending requirement.

  • Rewards categories. The rewards program itself will be another major factor to consider as you pick a travel rewards credit card. The card you choose should pay airline rewards in the categories where you spend the most. Some travel rewards credit cards have simple rewards programs that pay a flat amount of points or miles for every dollar you purchase. This type of card is a good option for a person who just wants to casually earn rewards through normal credit card use. Other airline credit cards have a tiered rewards program structure where various types of purchases earn rewards at different rates. These credit cards require you to put more thought and strategy into your credit card spending, but they also present the opportunity to earn more miles. That means you can earn a free flight much faster.
  • Foreign transaction fees. Many credit cards charge a fee when you make purchases in currency other than US dollars. The fee is a percentage of the transaction, typically 3%. These fees will apply whether you’re traveling overseas or just using an online store based outside the USA. Look for a credit card with no foreign transaction fee to avoid this fee completely.
  • Annual fee. The best travel rewards credit cards have an annual fee. Some cards may waive the fee in the first year, allowing you to enjoy all the benefits without the additional cost. If you choose a credit card that features an annual fee, make sure the card’s benefits outweigh the annual cost. Otherwise, you’re better off choosing a credit card that doesn’t charge an annual fee.
  • Additional perks. Free checked baggage, no foreign transaction fees, priority boarding and free seat upgrades are just a few perks that make a travel rewards credit card much more beneficial. It can take several months to earn enough rewards to redeem for a flight. In the meantime, the extra perks can make the card worthwhile.

Compare popular airline credit cards

United℠ Explorer Card

  • Intro offer: Get 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus earn an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months.
  • Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)
  • Miles: 2 miles per $1 on all ticket purchases, 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.
Benefits
  • Priority boarding.
  • One free checked bag.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • 25,000 bonus miles when you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 6 months.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

  • Intro offer: Get 40,000 miles after you spend your first $1000 within 3 months of opening your account.
  • Annual fee: $99
  • Miles: 2 miles per $1 on all southwest purchases and at participating hotels and car rental agencies, 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.
Benefits
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Companion pass status after earning 110,000 points or completing 100 one-way flights (companion pass status allows you to bring a guest on your Southwest flight at no additional charge).

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

  • Intro offer: Get 30,000 miles after you spend your first $1000 within 3 months of opening your account.
  • Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)
  • Miles: 2 miles per $1 on all American Airlines purchases, 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

Benefits

  • One free checked bag for you and up to four other people on your reservation.
  • Priority boarding.
  • Discounts on in-flight food and beverages.

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

  • Intro offer: Get 50,000 Avios (British Airways club currency) after you spend your first $1000 within 3 months of opening your account. Earn an additional 25,000 Avios when you spend $10,000 and another 25,000 when you spend $20,000 in the first year, for a total possibility of 100,000 Avios.
  • Annual fee: $95.
  • Avios: Three avios per $1 on all British Airlines purchases, one avios per $1 on all other purchases.
Benefits
  • No foreign transaction fees,
  • Free travel together ticket after spending $30,000 in one year (a travel together ticket allows you to bring a guest on your British Airways flight at no additional charge).

Will a travel rewards credit card work for you?

While the ability to earn miles and free flights appeals to everyone with a bit of wanderlust, a travel rewards credit card isn’t for everyone. It might work best for you if:

  • You have excellent credit. Credit card issuers give the best credit cards to consumers with a history of paying their bills on time and managing their debt well. If you don’t have a great credit score, work on improving your credit before you apply for a travel rewards credit card.
  • You pay your balance in full each month. As with any rewards credit card, paying your balance in full is the best way to get the full benefit of your travel rewards credit card, especially if the credit card charges an annual fee. Carrying a balance will cause you to pay interest that can offset the rewards you earn from your credit card.
  • You are loyal to one airline. Some of the best rewards come from airline-specific credit cards, in which case the card works best when you have a preferred airline that you use for most of your flights. You won’t mind that you need to use that airline brand to earn rewards or that your rewards are most valuable when you choose that airline or one of its partners.

How to maximize your travel rewards

The more rewards you can earn and the faster you can earn them, the sooner you can accumulate enough points to book your free flight. Once you’ve been approved for the travel credit card of your choice, here are some ways to maximize your rewards.

  • Earn the signup bonus. First, make sure you choose a credit card that offers a signup bonus. The bigger the bonus, the better. Then, tailor your spending so you earn the bonus. That may mean using that credit card exclusively for everything you possibly can for the bonus qualifying period.

Signup carefully

If your credit limit isn’t large enough to accommodate the spending necessary to earn the signup bonus, you may have to make frequent payments to free up additional credit. For example, if your credit limit is $3,000, but you need to spend $5,000 to earn the spending balance, you’ll have to pay off your credit card balance at least once to free up funds for more spending.

  • Maximize your spending in the highest earning categories. If your travel rewards credit card pays more rewards on certain types of purchases, make sure you use your card for those purchases as much as possible. For example, if your card pays double points on restaurant purchases, make sure you use it every time you dine out. You’ll earn airline rewards much faster by focusing on the categories that earn double and triple miles versus those that earn just one point or mile per dollar.
  • Book with the airline directly. You may be used to using an online travel agency website like Expedia or Orbitz to book your travel because it allows you to search for the best prices. However, many travel credit cards do not pay miles on purchases made with online travel booking tools. Instead, book your flight directly through the airline to earn rewards on your flight purchase.
  • Reach elite status. As you earn more miles with the airline’s frequent flyer program, you have the opportunity to reach elite status. As your frequent flyer status increases, you earn more miles per flight. “Elite” miles are not always redeemable for flights, but instead help you reach a frequent flyer status that rewards you with additional perks like free first class upgrade, priority boarding and mileage bonus. The mileage bonuses you earn with elite status helps you earn free flights much faster.

Drawbacks of travel rewards credit cards

While travel credit cards have the potential to provide big benefits, there are some drawbacks to consider before you apply. Understanding the potential drawbacks can help you use a travel credit card to your advantage.

  • You may not be able to transfer miles to another airline. With airline-specific credit cards, the rewards you earn are often tied to a specific airline. Certain airline carriers may not fly to your desired destination, particularly international destinations. As well, you may not be able to transfer your rewards to an airline that does offer the flight you want. In that way, your airline credit card can be a bit restricting.
  • You may lose points in converting. Some frequent flyer programs let you transfer miles you’ve earned on another carrier’s airline credit card. If your card does allow you to transfer points to another airline or frequent flyer program, you may lose some points in the conversion.
  • You may be responsible for taxes and fees. Even after you’ve accumulated enough rewards to cover your flight, your airline’s reward program may require you to pay for taxes and fees on your flight. Depending on the carrier, these fees can be as high as the flight itself. You’re still saving money, as you don’t have to pay for the flight, but it’s important to know that the flight may not be as “free” as you assumed.
  • Some flights may not be available. While most travel credit cards now tout “no blackout dates,” that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a seat on the flight. Airlines only release a certain number of seats to customers paying with miles. You can expect certain dates, like holidays or spring break, to book fast. Book your travel as far in advance as possible for the best chance at getting a seat.
  • Miles can be devalued. Airlines can change mileage values, upping the number of miles you need to book a flight. Fortunately, if you’ve already booked a flight at the time of the program change, you should be able to keep your flight without having to pay extra miles. However, if you were saving up to redeem for a future flight, you’ll have to spend a little more to reach the miles you need.

Mistakes to avoid

Avoid these critical mistakes when you’re using a travel credit card.

  • Not paying your balance in full each month. Interest rates on travel rewards credit cards tend to be higher than the rates on regular credit cards. You could end up paying more in interest than you’ve earned in rewards, which makes the miles you’ve earned worth a lot less. By paying your balance in full each month, you avoid paying interest on your credit card.
  • Paying late. Late payments are bad not only because they increase the cost of having a credit card and can potentially damage your credit score, but also because they can mean you forfeit your miles. Depending on the terms of your reward program, you may forfeit your rewards with just one missed payment. You don’t want to lose all your hard-earned points from something as easily avoided as a late payment.
  • Using your card for transactions that don’t earn rewards. Your travel rewards credit card won’t pay miles on cash advances or balance transfers. Use another credit card for these transactions and save your travel credit card for purchases that will allow you to earn airline miles.

Frequently asked questions

Was this content helpful to you? No  Yes

US Credit Card Offers

Important Information*
Deserve® Classic Card
Deserve® Classic Card

APR

24.49
variable

Annual fee

0 For the first year
More info
Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™
Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™

APR

16.74
variable

Annual fee

995 For the first year
More info
First Access Visa Card®
First Access Visa Card®

APR

29.99
variable

Annual fee

75 For the first year
More info
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card

APR

23.9
variable

Annual fee

75 For the first year
More info
Back to top

Read more on this topic

US Credit Card Offers

Important Information*
Deserve® Classic Card
Deserve® Classic Card

APR

24.49
variable

Annual fee

0 For the first year
More info
Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™
Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™

APR

16.74
variable

Annual fee

995 For the first year
More info
First Access Visa Card®
First Access Visa Card®

APR

29.99
variable

Annual fee

75 For the first year
More info
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card
Indigo® Platinum Mastercard® Credit Card

APR

23.9
variable

Annual fee

75 For the first year
More info

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder.com provides guides and information on a range of products and services. Because our content is not financial advice, we suggest talking with a professional before you make any decision.

By submitting your comment or question, you agree to our Privacy and Cookies Policy and Terms of Use.

Questions and responses on finder.com are not provided, paid for or otherwise endorsed by any bank or brand. These banks and brands are not responsible for ensuring that comments are answered or accurate.
Go to site